Social Media & Screen Addiction – Part 2

In part one of this two-part “blog series” dealing with social media and screen addiction, I introduced the idea of social media addiction and compared it to more traditional ideas of addiction. As previously discussed, social media and screen addiction are comparable with substance addictions and other negatively impacting addictions, such as gambling and pornography. That being said, it is somewhat understandable to be flummoxed at the idea of something as unassuming as social media being addictive. At least, to the point of it becoming detrimental to the user. In this blog, I wish to discuss social media and screen addiction more in depth. Based of a podcast by Dr Adam Alter, from New York University and one of the world’s leading experts on social media and screen addiction, I wanted to share his teachings in this post.

Dr Adam Alter, as I mentioned in my last post, is an associate professor of psychology and marketing at NYU. He specialises in the psychology of this modern technology and how it has come to dictate our lives in many ways. One such pioneer of these modern tech times was, unsurprisingly, Steve Jobs. Jobs was the co-founder and CEO of Apple Inc. before his resignation due to his declining health and subsequent untimely death. At the launch of the iPad in 2010, Jobs had exclaimed that the device was “miraculous” and that everyone should own one. However, when questioned about his family’s tech usage in the home, Jobs admitted that his children’s access to such devices was astonishingly limited. In fact, most big names behind world-renowned tech brands are among the most cautious of excessive tech usage, especially when it came to their children. There also appears to be a difference between certain forms of tech usage because, it can’t all be that bad, can it? Schools that have integrated this form of technology into their learning systems focus rather on interactive technology that passive content (such as social media). These schools also do not employ such methods until later in the learning system, limiting tech usage in the younger students.

But what are we learning about our ever-increasing mass addiction to social media and the screens of our mobile devices? Well, that it is, in fact, increasing. And the scary part is that we’re not even aware of how much of our time is consumed by our smartphones and mobile appendages. On average, adults underestimate their daily smartphone usage by 50%. And what’s worse is that adolescents are sometimes spending a total of 12 hours of their day on their phones – that’s 11 to 15 years in a lifetime! Adding another sobering fact to this statistic whirlpool: 75% of adults are never more than an arm’s reach away from their smartphones. Meaning, most adults have their devices constantly at their side. The psychological idea of propinquity suggests that we have become hauntingly attached to tech devices, so much so that they have a considerable effect on our lives.

Remember the days when you occupied yourself with your own thoughts? Really think about this one. Awaiting an elevator, an intermission in a meeting/lecture/class, a standard bathroom “visit”. Modern technology has conditioned good ol’ boredom out of us. We are incapable of tolerating boredom; our devices acting as an addictive crutch, eradicating our instinctive creative thought processes. Believe it or not, science has proven that the most creative of ideas are spawned out of complete and utter boredom. The way in which we interact modern technology has drastically altered the way we consume content. In 20th century terms, content consumption was finite. If you bought an edition of the daily paper, you picked out the sections you wanted to read (or even the whole paper), but once you had read what you wanted to read, that was it. Cast your mind back to watching a 30-minute episode of your favourite TV programme and waiting an entire week to get a glimpse of the following episode. The lack of stopping cues has rendered us averse to any form of break in our entertainment influx. Binge watching series on Netflix, automatically refreshing newsfeeds and 24-hour footage channels work in the same way as casinos – we have no concept of how much of our time is occupied by tech consumption and, in turn, making us oblivious to the negative effects of it.

Unlike substance abuse, social media and screen addiction appear to have less detrimental effects on our lives but, in actual fact, they follow a scarily similar prognosis. In the same way that alcoholism, drug abuse and other “accepted” forms of addiction affect us physically, financially, psychologically and socially; social media and screen addiction can have devastating effects on our lives and how we interact with the world around us. Curbing our social media usage and the amount of time we spend on mobile devices is the only way of limiting the effects of a technological addiction.

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